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Inclusion Insights: Concordia Portland

A culture of inclusion has become an important element of a longtime partnership between Concordia Portland and the broader Portland, Oregon, community. Efforts by the university, the athletics department and community leaders have made diversity a priority, benefiting students and city residents alike.

Lauren Eads, Concordia Portland vice president and athletics director

The Genesis: The university’s community engagement focus began about 12 years ago when then-President Chuck Schlimpert gathered community members and university leaders for a roundtable discussion. His goals were to understand communitywide priorities and break down potential barriers to higher education.

Lauren Eads, who became vice president and director of athletics in 2018 after filling the role on an interim basis for a year, values the longstanding relationship with the Portland, Oregon, community. She says it’s important for student-athletes to feel the department, campus and greater community are safe spaces for them.

The First Steps: Eads focuses on ways to connect the university and athletics department’s celebration of diversity with its community relationship.

“We have to do it at all levels of campus — from grassroots to leadership,” Eads says. “Being welcoming is one thing, but it really takes humility, persistence, training and education around these inherent vices that we have in order to address the deep historical injustices and close opportunity gaps that some groups might come across.”

Concordia Portland’s involvement with the Bike First program is a prime example of the partnership. The event was inspired by Cody Sullivan, a former student at Concordia Portland and the first student with Down syndrome to complete four years at an Oregon university. Sponsored by All Born (In), which supports families touched by developmental disability and works to pursue an inclusive civil society, the program involves students, student-athletes and members of the community teaching disabled children how to ride a bike.

The Culture Now: Eads says she has learned the importance of giving administrators and students the right tools to carry forward the message of inclusion. Concordia Portland recently opened the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, which aims to create and foster a safe and inclusive campus climate that supports the academic and personal development of all students so they can reach graduation.

Eads is excited about a center program, Safe Space, which educates students and staff on how to appropriately support individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Many athletics administrators already have gone through the training, and Eads hopes coaches and student-athletes will, too, so they can be resources and allies for their teams.